Magazine Editor Quits Over Column Rejecting Cultural Appropriation
The editor of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine has resigned after complaints over an article he wrote in which he said he doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation.
Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write — a publication for the union’s members — published an opinion piece in the spring 2017 issue titled “Writer’s Prompt.” In the article, in an issue dedicated to indigenous writing, Niedzviecki wrote: “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.
“I’d go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so — the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”
He went on to argue that Canadian literature remains “exhaustingly white and middle class” because writers are discouraged from writing about people and places they don’t know.
A sociological term, cultural appropriation is used to describe the adoption of elements or practices of one cultural group by members of another.
On Wednesday, the Writer’s Union of Canada issued an apology for the piece, announcing Niedzviecki’s resignation and pledging to review the magazine’s policies.
“The Writer’s Prompt piece offended and hurt readers, contributors to the magazine and members of the editorial board,” said the statement. “We apologize unequivocally. We are in the process of contacting all contributors individually.
“The intention behind the magazine is to offer space for honest and challenging discussion and to be sincerely encouraging to all voices. The Union recognizes that intention is not enough, and that we failed in execution in this instance.
“We offer the magazine itself as a space to examine the pain this article has caused, and to take this conversation forward with honesty and respect,” the statement concluded.
Neither Niedzviecki nor John Degen, the executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, responded to repeated requests for comment Wednesday.
Social media backlash against the piece began Tuesday from Write contributors and members of the Writer’s Union. Alicia Elliott, an indigenous Tuscarora author of a piece published in the same issue, tweeted out photos of Niedzviecki’s op-ed and said she was happy to receive her copy of the magazine “until I saw this.”
“It felt like an intimate betrayal,” she said. Niedzvieki had edited her own piece about cultural appropriation, which Elliott said made it “especially hurtful.”